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Airport trees

Nearly 200 trees along the runway at Rancho Murieta Airport face the ax.

Sacramento County is working on a plan that would preserve some of the trees next to the runway at Rancho Murieta Airport and still comply with a court order to eliminate the hazard the trees pose for pilots.

The county and the California Department of Transportation have reached agreement on an alternative that would remove 101 trees and preserve about 76 others that were slated to be cut down, according to a county update on the project.

The trees are part of a regional county park along the Cosumnes River. 

The county received the property from the Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers in exchange for the Yellow Bridge in 1979.

Jill Ritzman, deputy director of the Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks, said the alternative plan would meet Federal Aviation Administration standards for pilot safety by installing nine poles equipped with solar-powered hazard lights.

The county has a court-imposed deadline of Sept. 15 to complete the tree trimming and tree removal project at the airport.  

It's the latest in a series of deadlines resulting from legal action the airport owner has taken against the county over the trees. The airport is owned by a family trust established by the late Fred Anderson, founder of Pacific Coast Building Products.  

When the county finally began to carry out the tree-removal project last spring, the California Department of Fish and Game stepped in and issued a stop-work order. The agency is requiring a streambed alteration permit for the project.

The county has issued a notice of preparation for the environmental impact report that's needed for the permit. The EIR is expected to be presented to the county Board of Supervisors this summer. If the board approves the project and the environmental document, tree removal and trimming would have to start no later than Aug. 15 to make the Sept. 15 deadline, according to the county update.

In 2003, an initial environmental study concluded that "the proposed project will remove a substantial portion of mature riparian forest."

The study noted the riparian forest is a specialized environment that provides "valuable nesting and roosting habitat" for many species, including more than half a dozen birds protected by federal or state law -- Swainson's hawk, the barn owl, great egret and others.

Trees identified on the site include a heritage oak that's over 200 years old, as well as other native oaks and Northern California black walnut trees, which are considered extremely rare, according to the initial study.

The safety issue posed by the trees simmered for years but took on a new urgency in 2001, when Caltrans suspended the airport's night operations permit.

Hearings before the county Board of Supervisors followed, and the supervisors directed the parks department to save as many of the county trees as possible.

The airport cut down about 20 trees and trimmed others on airport property next to the runway in 2002.

Local pilots and airport business interests have appeared at county meetings to urge the supervisors to remove the trees and restore night operations.  

Marklin Brown's picture
Joined: 08/12/2007
Posts: 196
Post rating: 104


I think that if the trees could vote they'd vote for life and way out vote the three pilots needing night flying.

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